The drive-thru is really a simple concept, yet thousands suffer every day from its seemingly complicated grip. I work in a drive-thru and witness countless confused customers make their way awkwardly through the drive-thru lanes. But it doesn't have to be this way.
I know people like to blame the employees for bad experiences, which can be true in some cases, but it is not always. The most important thing to remember in a drive-thru to ensure a smooth experience is to listen. Pay attention and listen to the employees because they are there to help you. It's literally their job.
1. Put down your phone.
Tell whoever it is you're talking to that you'll call them back in a few minutes. Or you could just put them on mute while you interact with the employee. In my experience, most issues are caused because the customer is distracted by their phone.
This includes texting. I know you've been in the car driving and waiting to check your texts, but do so for a moment in the parking lot and not while the employees are asking you questions about your order.
End or pause the conversation before you reach the speaker box. When you say, "just a minute," to your phone, it can confuse the employee and make them think you need a minute before ordering.
2. Acknowledge the restaurant employee.
When you pull up to the speaker box, let the employee give their spiel, and then respond right away. Let them know that you heard them so they don't have to wonder if the headset is broken again. And acknowledge them politely, please.
Also, don't interrupt or speak before they give the spiel. Even if it's something simple, like, "Hi, how can I help you?" or elaborate like, "Welcome, it's a fantastic day here, the sun is shining, you are loved, and I'm here to take your order." This introduction gives the employee a chance to reset from the last order, or finish up making drinks or ringing in details. Each order has the potential to be a stressful emotional rollercoaster, so give the employee a minute to give their spiel.
3. Tell your order at a reasonable pace.
Once prompted, give the employee your order. But don't rush through the order. The employee will most likely have to ring in the items while simultaneously making drinks or desserts. They can remember things, but nobody's perfect, so they can also forget items if the information is being fed to them too quickly.
4. Say "thank you."
A simple "thank you" really does go along way. Not only is it polite, it also signifies to the employee that you heard them read back the order and give the total and that you are now going to drive away. One of the most awkward experiences on the employee's end is the end of an order with no "thank you"—of course, right after the customer pulling forward in the middle of the employee talking. Don't be that person.
5. Have your payment ready.
This includes any coupons, rewards cards, or apps that need to be scanned. Take your card or cash out of your wallet before you get to the window. Don't start to dig through your purse once you get to the window.
If you forgot your wallet or really can't find your card, don't just drive away without stopping at the window. This causes confusion for the employees. Stop and let the employee at the window know what's going on. If you plan on coming back, sometimes they can save your order in their system. (But don't expect this, not every restaurant can or will offer this.)
Also, while it is important to have your payment ready, don't roll up to the window holding your card or cash out of your car window. The employee needs time to greet you and read back your order or total before taking your payment, and shoving your card in their face before they prompt you can feel demeaning.
6. Listen to the employee.
When you pull up to the window, the employee will greet you and read back your order to make sure they have all the correct information. It is important to listen and pay attention here because this is where you can fix any mistakes that may have been made on either side. Once you pay and get your receipt, it will be more complicated to fix issues if you notice an error once you get your food. The issues will be resolved in the long run, but you won't have to be given and refunds or pay for additional items separately.
In my experience, this is the most common time for a mistake to happen in the drive-thru. During peak busy times, we take names for each order in the drive-thru so that it is easier to confirm orders quickly. I've seen customers distracted by their phone or something or someone in the car and agree that they are "Melissa with the two #1 meals" only to look at their receipt to say, "Oh wait, I had the #3." "Are you Melissa?" "No, I'm Carrie."
7. Don't forget to ask about condiments.
Most places do not place ketchup, or any condiment, in the bag automatically. I've seen customers say, "no," when I ask if they want condiments, only to be handed the bag, look inside, and ask, "There's no ketchup in here?" If you want ketchup, mayo, salt, or anything, please ask.
A pet peeve of mine is when I ask if a customer wants sauces, to which they respond, "No, just ketchup." I think in this context, ketchup counts as a sauce.
8. Say "thank you," again
Again, a simple "thank you" really does go a long way. It takes minimal effort on your part and helps the employee know there are still nice people out there.
9. Drive forward right away
Please do not unpack your meal right there at the drive-thru window. Pull forward a little bit or go to a parking spot so the next car can get to the window. This minimizes the wait time for all the cars behind you. If everyone in a drive-thru remembers this, all the customers' wait times will but cut.
The key is to listen. Pay attention to the employees and be kind and courteous. Think about the way you would like them to treat you, and treat them the same way. This will give both you and the employees a better experience in the drive-thru.